Potential Lieutenant Governor Candidate’s Eligibility Questioned

Nov 10, 2015

Home may be where the heart is, but does that adage extend to the ballot box? WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports some questions are being raised as to whether the latest potential Democratic candidate for Vermont lieutenant governor is even eligible to run.

Last week Garrett Graff told the weekly Burlington newspaper Seven Days that he was thinking of running for lieutenant governor.  Graff, who worked on Howard Dean’s campaign for president,  left Vermont when that campaign ended to work as a journalist in Washington D.C.  He is quitting his job as an editor at Politico and moving back to his home state.   “I’ve always wanted to return to Vermont.  I’ve always known that I would come home. It’s always been my home.”  

As he returns, Graff is planning to enter politics and is setting his sights on the lieutenant governor’s race.  But there’s a problem that could prevent him from running in 2016.  “There is a residency requirement in the constitution for governor and lieutenant governor.”

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos:  “It’s very brief and I’ll read it.  It says:  No person shall be eligible to the office of governor or lieutenant governor until the person shall have resided in this state four years next preceding the day of the election.”

Condos says there is also a state statute that defines “resident” under the voter registration section indicating an intent to maintain a principal dwelling or to return if temporarily absent.   “On one hand the statutes allows a person to remain on the voter checklist in Vermont even though they’re living out of state as long as their intent is to come back to the state. But the constitution trumps everything and the constitution, and I confirmed this with the AG’s office, we read it to mean that for four years immediately proceeding and uninterrupted before the election. Now I want to be clear that the question I was asked wasn’t specific to Garrett Graff.  But since that time obviously this has been in the news and if he has other facts then we’re willing to listen to see what he has to say.”

Graff says he is confident that he meets the residency requirements.   “I’m a Vermonter. I was born a Vermonter. I was raised a Vermonter. I will have woken up every day of my life as a Vermonter. I have consulted with the state’s leading election law attorney, Paul Gillies, and I am quite confident that I meet the residency requirements.”

Middlebury College Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science Bert Johnson says the state constitution is clear regarding a four-year residency requirement and it appears that Graff does not meet it.   “It remains to be seen what he’s got up his sleeve in terms of claiming to have had a residence here. But it may be that he’ll have to run for a different office and bide his time. It being a small state Vermont is an attractive target for somebody to come home to and decide they’re going to make a political career here.  And we’ve had examples of people doing that in the past.  But I think people have a misimpression of how easy it is to do that sometimes.  It can be politically difficult and it certainly can be legally difficult.”

Graff’s residency eligibility is open to a challenge to the Attorney General’s office as soon as he registers as a candidate.